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Friday, July 30, 2004

What You Shouldn't Miss in This Week's SI

No, it's not all of the reporting on the Olympics, about the 1896 games in Greece or the U.S. men's basketball team (trying this time to win the international game without any bona fide shooters on their roster; for a precedent, see Seoul, 1988) or the Brazilian women's gymnast who has created her own move or the Israeli Greco-Roman wrestler (a Georgia native -- that is, the former Soviet Georgia) who is favored for a medal and whose first name is, yes, Gotcha, which is great name for a wrestler (and perhaps a better one for an investigative journalist).  Yes, there's lots of good stuff about the Olympics, which is good, given that it's already 2004 and you thought that the East Germans were long gone and the Chinese women swimmers were off the juice only to learn that so many full-time athletes are suspected of doing something wrong.  (SportsProf actually misses the Soviets and East Germans in the Olympics, because not even J.K. Rowling could have penned more dramatic scripts for non-boycotted Olympics).

You have to dig for this great morsel, all the way near the back, and, it's not an article, it's a photograph.  A great, two-page photograph of 52 of the 60 living members of the Baseball Hall of Fame photographed in front of Lake Otisaga at the time of the most recent Hall of Fame inductions.  All are in coats and ties, and the only two non-Hall of Famers are Bud Selig (this photo and his speech are probably as close as he'll get) and the head of the Hall of Fame, Dale Petroskey.

The first person who probably catches your eye is the bald (except for white hair at the temples) Gaylord Perry, who is well over his playing weight, and who, with his white mustache, still has the twinkle in his eye of the crafty pitcher who just snuck a 3-2 fastball by you.  He's in the first row at the far left.  Moving to your right, sitting in the center, is Willie Mays (as befits the "best living baseball player"), wearing glasses and a baseball hat (team unknown).  Two seats away from Mays is Sparky Anderson, still with the great, enthusiastic expression that made him the manager that he was.  The photo of Sparky captures the true essence of him.  Earl Weaver is three seats down from Anderson, looking content and contained, resembling more your retired high school civics teacher than the fiery mentor whose genius shone in Baltimore for years.  Two seats down from him, in a wheelchair, is Willie McCovey, who brought fear into opposing teams every time he stepped up to the plate.  SportsProf doesn't know what is ailing the former Giants' first baseman, but he always has been a huge Willie McCovey fan and wishes him the best.

In the second row, at the far left, is Orlando Cepeda, looking rather fit, and displaying a calm that shows that the recent years must have been better to him than his first decade out of baseball.  Two people down the row is the Chairman of the Board, Whitey Ford, hoisting a glass (the only one doing so), perhaps to his old friend, Mickey Mantle, who, along with Billy Martin, was probably trying to figure out how to set some hotfoots on the attendees from far above.  As you make your way past Joe Morgan and Ozzie Smith (who still looks like he could go deep in the hole), you get to the humongous Kirby Puckett, who is standing between Phil Rizzuto and Al Kaline (and you wonder how things are going for the once-popular, since fallen Twins' centerfielder -- by the looks of his weight, not too well).   Next to Kaline are Eddie Murray (almost looking like he wants to find a good exit away from the writers), Billy Williams and Tony Perez, and it's Tony Perez who probably looks the best of anyone in the photo and who still looks like he could go out there and bat cleanup for the Big Red Machine.  When you think about the best clutch hitters of any era, you put Tony Perez on the list.  Jim Palmer also looks very good, and he's next to Perez, although Palmer has a bit of that "Dick Clark" thing going -- he'll always look like he just jumped out of the shower.  Robin Roberts is next to Palmer, and he looks rather short compared to the big righties who frame him (Fergie Jenkins is on the other side of Roberts).  Who said "shorter" righties couldn't fare well?  Roberts was great, and for the most part he pitched for bad teams.  Terrible teams.  All right, teams who must not be named.

Near the far right of the second row are Johnny Bench, who still looks larger than life, Juan Marichal and Reggie Jackson.  Jackson is on the far right, and, with his body language, he still looks like the defiant and misunderstood Mr. October, a great player perhaps wondering how he fits into the entire picture.  With sunglasses on too (although Yogi has them on too).

In the top row at the far left you have Bob Gibson, still looking like he's in playing shape, and probably still capable of mustering one more 90-plus fastball to deck a hitter who got too close to home plate.  Two players down is the huge Carlton Fisk, with long hair and a fu manchu, looking more like a contemporary closer than a catcher (and probably hardly containing his glee that he doesn't have to crouch anymore for part of his living).  Rollie Fingers is next to Fisk, this time with a small mustache and closely cropped hair that is gray at the temples, no longer the swashbuckling A's closer.  The names are incredible. . . Harmon Killebrew, Brooks Robinson, Brett, Brock and then you stop at Sandy Koufax, who also looks like he's in playing shape and who looks like he could have engaged in a 0-0 nine inning classic with Gibson on that very day.  Senator Jim Bunning is flanked by Robin Young and Dave Winfield, who dwarfs the Kid, Gary Carter, who is on the other side of Winfield.  Steve Carlton is a few players down, still with great posture.  Next to him is Tom Seaver, who looks every bit the General Electric board member (in his blue sport coat and red tie) to Carlton's general manager of a Zen Buddhist chain of Rocky Mountain dirt bike stores. 

SportsProf has spent more time with this photograph than he has with the next ten photographs combined, if only for the memories these men bring back of great baseball and shared times watching and talking about the national pastime with his late father, with whom he shared a love for the game.  It's a great photo and guaranteed to bring back memories if you are old enough, and, quite frankly, even if you aren't but if you're a fan of the game.

In a few weeks SportsProf will take Young SportsProf to his first Major League game ever, and he hopes to start up a whole new conversation with the next generation about the magical powers of this great sport.  Being a realist, SportsProf will settle for three innings, ice cream and some conversation about the mascot.  But he'll see the game through the dancing eyes of a fun little boy, the same way his father did at a stadium that no longer exists more than thirty years ago. 

We might even take our gloves. 

Just in case.